January 07, 2014

InterACT forges new global path

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UAB has entered the realm of international medical training with the creation of the International Advanced Clinical Training Program, or InterACT.

The program officially launched in July 2013 with a formal agreement between the School of Medicine and Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, part of the kingdom’s Ministry of Higher Education.

Majd Zayzafoon, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Pathology and director of UAB’s Center for Metabolic Bone Disease, spent two years building the program with partners in the departments of Medical Education, Pediatrics and Medicine, and forged the partnership with SACM to recruit applicants who are competitive enough to join the program.

Unlike other international training programs, UAB’s InterACT offers trainees clinical experience.

The program is divided into three components: four months on clinical rotations, six months working in clinical research, conducting IRB-approved clinical research under the mentorship of NIH-funded UAB clinical faculty, and two months working in the Children’s Hospital Pediatric Simulation Center, which includes the management of both simulated child and adult patients. 

The first foreign medical graduates — Tariq Alrasheed, M.D., a graduate of King Abdulaziz University, and Hussein Al Amer, M.D., and Fahd Almohid, M.D., both graduates of King Saud University – started their training at UAB in the summer, working alongside UAB medical students and residents. 

None of the three Saudi scholars knew exactly what to expect from UAB or the first-year program. “Most of our colleagues ask people who have been through a program before for advice. Most avoid first-year programs,” says Alrasheed.  However, he and the others applied to UAB based on its national reputation and ranking and the comprehensive approach.

“Most of the programs don’t offer a chance to do clinical training,” Al Amer says. “The thing that caught my eye was the way the program was constructed, the observership and getting to know the faculty. There are so many good things in one program, instead of doing just one thing for 12 months.”

Al Amer lived in Washington, D.C., for three years, while Alrasheed and Almohid previously lived in Newark, N.J. They have all been pleasantly surprised by Birmingham’s livability and new developments in the downtown area, like Region’s Field and Railroad Park. 

“InterACT allows its trainees to fully immerse themselves in the best features of academic medicine: cutting edge research, exposure to clinical care at a busy tertiary care center and the use of simulation as an educational and quality tool,” says Hughes Evans, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for Education and chair of the Department of Medical Education, the program’s administrative home.

The InterACT program provides tremendous benefits to UAB, says Zayzafoon, not only by attracting additional trainees, whose expenses and costs are paid by their home country, but also by laying a foundation for building future business relations.  “While serving the mission of UAB, InterACT enlarges the University’s global presence and generates novel revenue streams,” he says. Departments working with the InterACT program also share in its revenues, and Zayzafoon would like to share the opportunity with more UAB departments and schools next year. He is currently meeting with School of Medicine department chairs to update them on the benefits of partnering with the program, and encourages anyone interested in learning more to contact his office for more information.

“We are building bridges of cultural interaction between our university and other countries,” Zayzafoon says. “It is very possible that in the future the physicians who train here will go back to Saudi Arabia and will involve us in creating sister institutions there.”

InterACT is a faculty-driven program that could not have come to fruition without the help of many dedicated partners at UAB, Zayzafoon says.  Gustavo Heudebert, M.D., professor of General Internal Medicine and vice chair for Education in the Department of Medicine; and Nancy Tofil, M.D., assistant professor in Pediatric Critical Care and medical director of the Pediatric Simulation Center are co-founders and co-directors of InterACT, and are serving as  mentors for the foreign medical graduates. The program is also directed by Evans, Suzanne Austin, Ph.D., vice provost for Student and Faculty Success; Penny Whiteside, director of Sponsored International Programs; and Lisa Laycock Willett, M.D., director of the Tinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Residency.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Zayzafoon says.  “The demand for clinical training from many countries around the world is strong and growing, and UAB is well positioned to be a leader in international global medicine.”